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Richardson: The Revolutionary War on Campbell Street
Part 1 of 2
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Campbell Street’s early history is significant. The original town lots of Camden were laid out on a grid sometime before 1774, when the earliest known plan was drawn. On the 1774 plan, Campbell Street south of York Street was one of the original streets. During the Revolutionary War, the British built the western defenses of Camden on Campbell Street. Two Revolutionary War redoubts were located on Campbell Street -- one in the middle of the street south of Bull Street and one on what is now residential land between King and Calhoun streets, just on the eastern edge of Campbell. A redoubt is defined as an isolated earthen work forming a complete enclosure used to defend a prominent point. That prominent point would have been the palisaded walls of the British garrison at Camden.

This diagram of the British defenses of the garrison at Camden was drawn by an engineer in Gen. Nathaniel Greene’s Army after the British had deserted the garrison in 1781. Greene’s men mostly destroyed the earthen works so that they could not be used if the British returned. These archaeological sites are important to the early history of Camden.

Early Public Squares

When Joseph Kershaw acquired new acreage above what is now DeKalb Street in 1768, he drew up “the extended plan of Camden.” In it, he carefully placed two of the four new “Public Squares” on Campbell Street. We now know the southern one as Jackson Square, the site of the old Jackson School. The northern square is what we now know as Boykin Park. Because Jackson Square was a public square, it became the site of the first African-American public school after the Civil War. Subsequent Jackson school buildings have occupied the site through time and we have lost the sense this square was intended as a park. Boykin Park, known to many of Camden’s earlier residents as “The Grove,” remains as open public area.

Jackson Square, site of the Jackson Schools

Jackson Square is one of the four public squares designated in Kershaw’s plan of the upper town of Camden. Also called Jackson School Grove, it is bound by DeKalb, Campbell, and Gordon streets and town lot 808. Camden’s first public school for African-Americans was built on Jackson Square in 1867. This frame school building stood on Campbell Street between DeKalb and Lafayette streets.

The first building was replaced in 1893, when Jackson School became a part of the graded school system. It was a two-story frame building with six classrooms and a wide hallway, as well as a large auditorium. This school served grades 1 through 9. In 1913, the Camden Chronicle wrote of the Jackson School teachers, “They are teaching their young charges to attain a higher station in life; instilling in their minds that if they are to be respected they must make honesty and morality, industry and thrift their aim in life.” The elementary school continued to be held in this old frame building.

In 1923, construction began on a new facility for Jackson High School. This one-story brick building, completed in 1924, faced DeKalb Street and held classes for 8th through 10th grade. The 11th grade was added in 1925. 

During the Great Depression, the Works Progress Administration built a new brick elementary school to replace the old 1893 two-story frame structure on Campbell Street. Built with a combination of Rosenwald School Funds and public funds, this two-story brick school building was completed in 1936. This later became the high school building.

The federal government ordered integration of the nation’s public schools in 1960. It took the county a few years to come to grips with the best plan for desegregating the schools. At first there was voluntary integration, but the numbers of black students going to white schools and vice versa were too low to meet the federal criteria. It was not until 1970 when the schools were considered fully desegregated in Kershaw County.

During the years of desegregation, a new Jackson High School for blacks was built on York Street in 1964. Later, in 1967, Jackson Middle School for blacks was built across from the new high school. The old Jackson High School building on Campbell Street stood empty after 1967, though black elementary students still attended the old one-story Jackson School building on the corner of DeKalb and Campbell Streets during these years. The old Jackson High School on Campbell Street was demolished in 1981.

During the years of the Jackson Schools at Jackson Square, many educators made significant contributions to the education of Camden’s African-American population. The first known principal was Rev. John Whittaker. Professor C.C. Lowery served until 1917 or 1918. The longest serving principal was P.B. Mdodana, who served from 1917-8 until 1950-51. He was the first Negro principal in Kershaw County who supervised a high school which prepared students for college. Countless teachers taught in the Jackson Schools and shaped the futures of thousands of students through the years. 

The alumni of Jackson High School dedicated a memorial to the school in 1988. The message they chose for the memorial sums up Jackson School’s legacy.

Her legacy

“Made its people easy to lead, 

Difficult to drive,

easy to govern,

but impossible to subjugate.”

“Be well prepared for

whatever challenge

life has in store.”

The Methodist Episcopal Church

An oral tradition holds that the African-American Methodists formed their own church by 1836 in a building on the south side of West DeKalb Street. No written proof of this has been located to date. The Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church was active in South Carolina during the 1830s, but according to their policies, blacks should worship with the white congregations. We do know from a first-person account of life in Camden, in 1804, the black and white Methodists worshipped together in the first Methodist church building in Camden.

The African-American Methodist church in Camden grew out of the congregation of the white Methodist church. The earliest Methodist sanctuary was a small frame building on King Street in the old part of Camden near the Mills Court House. The Methodist congregation built its second church building on West DeKalb Street in 1828. This large frame church building was purchased by the African-American congregation in 1875, after the white congregation built a new church building on Lyttleton Street. By 1888, the African-American congregation had 600 members and was under the care of Rev. J. L. Grice.

The frame church on West DeKalb was named Trinity United Methodist Church. This thriving congregation used the 1828 frame church until it was partially destroyed by fire in 1925. The congregation made immediate plans to construct a new church on the site. On Sunday, June 17, 1928, the first services were held in the new sanctuary. Three services were held, morning afternoon and evening. The midday service was an interracial service, with white town people worshipping alongside the Negro church members. By all accounts in the newspaper, the music of both Mt. Moriah’s choir and the choir from Trinity was exquisitely performed. Speakers at the interracial service were Judge Mendel L. Smith, introduced by Dr. J. H. Thomas. Mayor C. P. DuBose and Camden barber and church member Isaac English rounded out the program of special speakers. Church services had been held at Browning Home, later known as Browning Home Mather Academy, during the rebuilding process. On June 28, 1928, the entire congregation processed from Mather Academy to the newly completed brick church building. This magnificent Gothic style edifice has been home to the congregation since that time.

Trinity United Methodist Church and Macedonia United Methodist Church combined into one congregation in 1992. The church worships in Trinity’s sanctuary and is known as Camden First United Methodist Church. 

Mt. Moriah Baptist Church

On Sunday, January 22, 1866, 104 African-American members of the Camden Baptist Church (now First Baptist) and the Swift Creek Baptist Church met on the site of the present church building to form a new congregation. Each had letters of dismissal from their former congregations and so this new congregation formed with the blessings of the older established Baptist congregations in Camden. Officers of Camden Baptist Church and members of the American Baptist Home Mission Society assisted with the establishment of the new church.

The new church first met in a blacksmith shop located on the site of the present church building. The congregation met twice on January 22, 1866, and formed a committee of five to write the church constitution and plan for the organization period. On Monday, January 23, they reconvened and chose the name Mt. Moriah and adopted their constitution. Monroe Boykin was chosen as the first minister. Though not trained as a minister, he had spiritual gifts which were apparent to the congregation. Rev. Boykin led the church for 35 years until his retirement in 1901. His son, Rev. Jefferson Withers Boykin, was then chosen as pastor and continued in the position for 50 years. Other pastors served the church in later years, yet the long pastorates of the Boykins helped establish a strong, stable congregation at Mt. Moriah. 

The new church grew rapidly. A Sunday School was started in 1867. By the early 1870s, the congregation had long outgrown the converted blacksmith shop and began plans for a new church building. The present church structure was in place by 1891. Originally it was a frame church building. A fire in 1956 damaged the sanctuary around the pulpit and organ, after which the church building was renovated. During the renovation a false ceiling was removed from the sanctuary, exposing handsome original beams, the church was brick veneered and the steeple was altered. This year marks the 150th anniversary of this important African American religious institution.

(Next month: Cedars Cemetery, Collins Funeral Home, The Bonds Conway House, Camden Second Presbyterian Church and School, the Public Library for Coloreds, and Eugene H. Dibble and Brothers Grocery.)